September 20, 2005


Annan has paid his dues: The UN declaration of a right to protect people from their governments is a millennial change (Ian Williams, September 20, 2005, The Guardian)

By the time John Bolton had hacked large parts out of the UN's 60th anniversary draft declaration, and then had to agree to much of it going back in after Condoleezza Rice told him to be nice to US allies, it was no surprise that some observers saw the result as a smack in the face for Kofi Annan.

In fact, Annan scored a major triumph, a positive answer to the question he posed at the millennium summit five years ago: "If humanitarian intervention is indeed an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica - to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?"

In the final declaration last week 191 countries, including Sudan and North Korea, went along with a restatement of international law: that the world community has the right to take military action in the case of "national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". It comes too late to help Darfur, not to mention Rwanda and Cambodia, but it is a millennial change.

Tony Blair, whose speech did not mention the crucial millennium development goals in case it upset his friend President Bush, welcomed the new development: "For the first time at this summit we are agreed that states do not have the right to do what they will within their own borders." [...]

[T]he egg of "national sovereignty", beloved of American conservatives and Korean communists alike, is now thoroughly shattered and cannot be put together again.

And good riddance. Folks have expressed some curiosity at the fact that an essay by Mr. Annan is included in our forthcoming book, but he's an excellent representative of the idea of humanitarian intervention as a legitimate trump of national sovereignty.

Mr. Williams is quite right that traditional sovereignty will never be put back together again--the question now is what will replace it. The two main contenders are the notion of transnationalism--whereby central laws, institutions and bureaucracies would have powers transcending sovereignty such that they would be entitled to govern many nations irrespective of the consent of the peoples affected--or a standard of liberal democratic legitimacy--which would judge each nation's entitlement to its own sovereignty by its conformity to the values we've determined mark the End of History: a society premised on human dignity and organized roughly around democracy, protestantism and capitalism. Though American sovereignty is threatened by the former--in everything from the WTO to Kyoto to the Supreme Court's invocation of foreign precedent--we are the main proponents of the latter and have been throughout our history, though we've pursued the end only intermittently. The only real change in recent years is that Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been more open about America's historic role as democracy's evangelist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2005 8:50 AM

The UN's flack, earning his keep, again; his long
AWOL screed on the President was just a hobby.

Posted by: narciso at September 20, 2005 10:47 AM

In which Kofi Annan approves regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, and endorses its future use in Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, . . . .

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 20, 2005 11:20 AM

"...organized roughly around democracy, protestantism and capitalism..."

Why protestantism rather than Christianity?

Posted by: Bartman at September 20, 2005 11:23 AM

Because Protestantism is the capitalist version of Christianity.

Posted by: Shelton at September 20, 2005 11:51 AM

What's so funny is the assumption by the Guardian that the US must hate this idea since we do so much bad stuff that now the UN can tell us to knock off (i.e., they hold to oj's first "main contender" in which sovereignty is pushed up a level to some supernational bureaucratic organization).

I can't see how there's been any change in sovereignty in a practical sense--the US gov't can do what it pleases w/in our borders (and w/out as well, since the end of the Cold War) because no one has the ability to tell us otherwise, much as they might disapprove. And while nations such as France & Germany might pretend that they've "outgrown" the concept of "national sovereignty" their actions (such as blatantly ignoring EU edicts when they see fit) have shown that it's all just posturing & preening in a feeble attempt to create a rival to us.

Posted by: b at September 20, 2005 12:13 PM

Sovereignity is a European legal fiction whereby a power acting as holder of the balance defends buffer states in their role as checks on other major powers. Think England-Belgium-Germany.

It has almost no application to the present world situation. "Sovereignity" had not availed Tibet, nor could it have done so, unless India or another power had been in a position to intervene.

The term is now bandied about by those whose intent is to check our power.

What the srticle describes is a growing recognition that the term should not be used as a shield for criminal regimes, and that there is a "good neighbor" exception. Of course America has been there and done that.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 20, 2005 12:30 PM

Makes sense...

Thanks Shelton

Posted by: Bartman at September 20, 2005 1:07 PM


Small "p", not large. Religious pluralism.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2005 1:47 PM

Remember, Kofi Annan has more blood on his hands than anyone since about 1985, and certainly since 1994. Writing essays can't wash that away.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 20, 2005 2:44 PM

oj, that's where I made my mistake. I read it too fast.


Posted by: Bartman at September 20, 2005 3:01 PM


Ending sovereignty is bloody business--we've shed more than he's failed to prevent.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2005 6:25 PM

I don't agree - his long face and sad words don't mean anything to the approximately 1.4 million (my guess) who died hoping that the UN would save them. Our total is lower, even if you include the civilian deaths in Iraq from 1991 on. Only by bringing in Cambodia and Vietnam (starting from 1965) can we approach what the UN has done in Africa, the Balkans, and other places around the world.

And it's hard to square Kofi's words of 5 years ago with his continued servitude towards the 'sovereignty' of Saddam Hussein in March 2003 (and after). Indeed, he seems almost more intent on preserving the 'sovereignty' of the UN (i.e., himself) than in any meaningful change. Sure, the Russians, the French, and the Chinese would go nuts if he tacked towards Bush, but when you carry the guilt he does, major penance is called for.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 20, 2005 10:56 PM

If you're going to blame him for not removing evil regimes why not blame us too? We can. He can't without us.

Posted by: oj at September 21, 2005 7:28 AM

Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Kofi would have none of that.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 21, 2005 10:27 AM

Because we should only remove evil regimes where there is something in it for us. Kofi can't remove regimes without us, but if he wanted he could have as many divisions as the Pope.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 21, 2005 12:28 PM

There's always something in it for us.

Posted by: oj at September 21, 2005 1:35 PM